He’s Lived 50 Years Off the Grid in Appalachia

Aug 19, 2023 11.1M Views 15.9K Comments

Deep in the woods of North Carolina is a man name Joe Hollis who’s lived of the grid for 50 years. Here he’s mastered the techniques of a life tuned to nature, dependent on his natural environment for survival. He also has the largest collection of native Appalachian and Chinese medicinal herbs in the Eastern US. Join me on this most epic look into a lifestyle that is becoming more attractive to many in this rapidly developing world. This is part of our greater Appalachia series.

► Help rebuild Joe’s library
► Joe’s website: http://www.mountaingardensherbs.com
► Joe’s YT channel: https://www.youtube.com/@mountaingardens

► Video edited by: Natalia Santenello

► Headlund – Return to No Man’s Land

♪ somber country ♪
♪ somber country ♪
[Peter] Joe, how long
have you been out here for?
[Joe] Fifty years.
-So 50 years ago, you purchased this land?
-I purchased this land,
2.8 acres, it cost me $800.
Last good deal.
Nobody was moving in
to Yancey County at that point.
It was the second poorest
county in the state.
There was land for sale everywhere.
Where you could just have empty houses,
“Hey, you mind if I live in there?”
“Sure, just mow the lawn once in a while.”
That kind of situation.
Not anymore.
Now Yancey County’s
very much been discovered.
All kinds of people flocking here.
-Because we’re an hour north
of Asheville, is that why?
-Yeah, it’s within range of Asheville.
Anything within range
of Asheville is booming.
Little towns that were
almost abandoned like Marshall over here.
The main street was all boarded-up.
Now the main street is buzzing.
-So how did the locals take you
when you first moved out here?
-By and large, they were very tolerant.
It’s kind of a mountain thing
to be pretty tolerant of your neighbors.
But it was during the Vietnam War,
and there were some people
who looked askant at long-haired people.
As there are today I suppose.
But by and large,
people were pretty tolerant.
Live and let live kind of attitude.
[Joe] For many, many years, I’d say my
annual income was well under $10,000.
I’ve always been below poverty line,
I don’t worry about taxes at all.
-You grow all your own food
or a lot of it?
-A lot of it.
We’ve got land for it,
we just don’t have the people.
-You’re looking
for people to come out here?
-Absolutely, yeah.
-Just to help, like stay for a little bit
of time, or be here permanently?
Eventually somebody’s gonna
have to take this place over.
I’m 80 years old
and my health is not great.
So I’m thinking
like an eight person eco-village
small community situation.
This is a project to create
what I call a paradise garden.
Which is various definitions for it
but one is
a botanical garden
of useful plants grown ecologically
and arranged ornamentally.
Meaning a beautiful garden
where all the plants
are pretty much growing
by themselves
and I can become sort of
a hunter-gatherer in my own garden.
-I just need to remember where they are,
and when to get them, and so on.
When I started
I’d been reading a lot of anthropology.
At that time in the ’60s
there was all this information
coming out about hunter-gatherers,
and a lot of interesting, just…
How we got ourselves into the situation
we’re in vis-a-vis the planet
where we find ourselves being the most
destructive… [chuckles] organism ever.
And a lot of the thinking was
along the lines of it all went wrong
with the beginning of agriculture.
A lot of people think that’s when
all of a sudden we went from
living as part of Gaia
to wanting to manipulate.
So the thinking is of course
we wouldn’t live like that anymore.
-‘Cause there’s too many people.
-So my response to that is
to up the carrying capacity of my land.
I want my land to be able
to support more people
So how do I do that?
I pack it with
more and more useful species.
Why do I do that?
Well, A is: figure out where they are
and the obvious place is East Asia.
Very similar bio-climate and so on.
So if you want more plants…
More diversity of plants,
then you want more diversity of habitats.
For instance there’s no
standing water on my land.
The water comes down
from above in the national forest
and then it sinks into the ground.
-And the biggest peak
in the Appalachian Range
is Mount Mitchell, right?
-Right up there.
-So right beyond these trees?
-We’re at the foot of the Black Mountains.
And I’m the last place
on the road adjoining the national forest.
[Joe] I grew up in Detroit.
My family moved,
is what got me into North Carolina.
My dad was a professor and he…
He went to the Library of Congress
for a while and decided he’d rather teach.
So he came down to North Carolina.
And so I came along with the family
’cause free tuition. [chuckles]
-And then after that
I went off in the Peace Corps
and lived with Tribal people
in Borneo for about three years.
And suffered significant culture shock
when I came back home.
-The culture shock
was not going over there,
the culture shock was coming back and
seeing this glut of stuff that we have.
Just walking into a mall
like, [pfft], you know?
Um, I spent several years thinking
about going back to graduate school
and studying anthropology,
and going back overseas,
and working with these people.
Eventually I decided
I just didn’t really want to study.
I was so impressed with their lifestyle.
Here’s people…
you’re coming out of Detroit, you know?
You don’t really do anything
except have a job, make money,
and fulfill all your needs
with your money.
Here’s people that build their own houses,
grow their own food,
they’re pretty much self-reliant.
All the communication is by river.
Little canoes along the river.
They’re really not going anywhere much.
So that was amazing.
And then they had their rituals,
and their costumes,
and just such a rich life that they had.
Eventually I decided I didn’t want to
study it, I just wanted to live it myself.
So like…
Because they were all healthier
and happier than people in America
with so little,
making so little demand on the earth.
I was back in Detroit
and my next door neighbors
was a little kind of hippie commune
of craftspeople and they’d got a line
on some land right here in this valley.
-They were interested
because a famous craft school
is not far from here
called Penland School of Craft.
So I came down with them
and like most hippie communes
it lasted a couple years
and then kind of imploded.
-Sorry to interrupt,
why do you think they implode?
-Why do they work well
in Borneo but maybe not here?
Maybe because
we’re all such individualists.
-You know?
-That would be one speculation.
But that’s what we need to create.
That’s the next frontier.
Like I made this paradise garden
out of a couple acres of land
that was too rocky and steep,
and had never been farmed.
Nobody’d look at it.
Now phase two is to have a community
to take it over and run it.
This is my kind of signature herb.
-Which I think
I introduced to America actually.
But I promote it as
the best plant to grow for your health.
Gynostemma pentaphyllum,
Chinese name, Jiaogulan.
It’s a vine,
it’s actually in the squash family
but it has identical compounds to ginseng,
and ginseng is very much
under threat of over harvesting.
Wild ginseng out of the woods
is worth $1,000 a pound some years.
-This stuff is practically a weed,
but it has identical compounds
to ginseng, so I…
-What does it do for your health?
-What does it do for your health?
-It’s what’s called an adaptagen.
Which means they’re health-promoting,
they’re not sickness-curing,
they’re health-promoting,
and they boost your immune system.
This whole concept of adaptagens
was actually developed by the Russians.
Who wanted to win
more gold medals at the Olympics.
So they put a lot of research
into their adaptagen.
Because they don’t have much ginseng,
they have something
called Siberian ginseng.
-Which is one
that’s right over here somewhere.
-So do you use
all these plants in your daily life?
-That one I drink every day.
One of the ways that was discovered,
it was a folk herb.
It was not one of
the traditional Chinese herbs
that’s been used for thousands of years.
Chinese government started
keeping good enough statistics to realize
that certain parts of China had
an extraordinary large number
of centenarians.
People living to be a hundred years old.
Like there’s way more of them
in this part of China.
So I went to investigate,
they’re all drinking this stuff,
and calling it immortality tea.
So that’s kind of when it
came to more global notice.
It’s huge now all over East Asia.
It’s coming to America,
they call it Sweet Tea vine.
It’s showing up in tea shops.
-But it’s not as big as it’s gonna be.
Goji berries, whoever heard of
goji berries 20 years ago?
Nobody, it’s a famous Chinese blood tonic.
Now they’re everywhere.
Schisandra’s another one that’s coming.
One by one they come to America.
[Peter] If you go to your average doctor?
-They’re gonna give–
-The AMA is not very fond of herbs.
-For various reasons including historical
because in the last century
there was a huge rivalry between
the herbal people,
who are called eclectics,
and they had their own medical schools,
and their own journals,
and they were very active.
They’re the ones that brought
all the American Indian herbs
into Western practice.
But there was a huge rivalry
between them and the AMA,
the medical establishment.
Which the medical establishment
finally won for various reasons.
If you’re a conspiracy theorist
you could say, well, it’s because
at a certain point in time
all the wealthy people,
Carnegie, and Rockefeller, and Ford,
pumped all this money into
Harvard, and Yale, and Princeton,
and nobody gave any money
to the herbal people.
-Do you agree with that theory?
-Yeah, that happened for sure.
-I mean whether you want to call it
a conspiracy or not depends on
how open you are to conspiracy ideas.
But it certainly happened,
no question about it.
And so for more than 50 years
people came out of medical school
having been indoctrinated
with the idea that herbs was a a myth.
They didn’t really do anything,
it was just folklore.
If they did anything
it was just placebo effect.
-And that went on for a long time,
the AMA denied that ginseng did anything
right up until about the ’60s.
-When the Russian researchers
who actually coined the term adaptagen
invented this rat swimming test.
Which is the first thing that proved
that ginseng actually did something.
So you can throw the rat in the water,
and time how long it can swim,
and then you give it some adaptagens,
and it will swim twice as long.
And that’s incontrovertible evidence.
So they finally had to turn around and,
“Well, I guess it does something.”
So then they had to figure out what it did
and that’s kind of where
the whole immune system was discovered.
Was by finding out
how these adaptagens work.
-Just in the ’60s?
-Was my understanding, yeah, mm-hmm.
-So it’s a very recent discovery
in that sense for the West?
-This is your tool zone obviously
-Tool wall, yeah.
Inspired by Chinese gardens.
They divided their gardens up a lot
with little walls into little micro areas.
This is like an homage to Chinese gardens.
It’s mostly clay and straw.
-And this is all your power, huh?
-So that gives you everything
you need pretty much power-wise?
-Yeah, well we have
another set of panels further out.
-We’ve got two different sets of panels.
-These will end up
on the roof of the new building.
You can see they’re
already getting into the shade.
-It’s not an ideal location.
Well it’s gotta be tough down here
’cause it seems like you pretty much
have a small window of light
especially in the winter I’m sure.
-Yep, we don’t see a lot of sky.
I’ve never gotten too much into astronomy
’cause we have a very small piece of sky.
So here’s a chunk of paradise garden.
Probably at least
a hundred useful plants in here.
Edible, medicinal, and so on.
Those big giant yellow ones are mullien,
excellent for coughs.
-Fennel, really good for digestion,
and jiro’s good for wounds and so on,
Echinacea, everybody knows about.
-So what are you doing,
are you selling these off your property?
You’re not consuming all of this, right?
-You and your team?
-No, we sell seeds and plants.
-And then in the past
we’ve made lots of preparations.
Particularly tinctures, but we also have
made salves, and pills, and liniments,
and many, many different things.
I also taught herbal preparations
for a while at a school in Asheville
called Daoist Traditions.
-The goji berry,
I thought that was a tropical berry.
-No, no, no.
It grows way up in the North Dakotas.
Become weedy in certain parts of America.
-So what does somebody do, Joe,
if they don’t have your setup?
You know, all of this sounds amazing.
Everyone wants to be healthier.
It’s tough though
if you’re in a busy life.
How do you apply this
to your life if you don’t grow it all?
You just buy supplements?
-You can do that,
yeah, if you’re interested.
That’s how I started.
Like I said, I picked up
this book sort of randomly
called “Chinese Tonic Herbs”.
Read about ’em, sounded great,
so I just ordered some
to start trying them.
I’m like,
“I want to grow this in my garden.”
So then that sent me
on a long search to botanicals.
Most of ’em are not available in America.
-Looking for trading partners,
and seed savers exchange,
and corresponding with
botanical gardens in Korea and Japan.
-It just led me…
Nice thing if you’re not
trying to make money in your life.
Which I’m not.
One of my goals is
to earn as little money as possible
without feeling like
I’m suffering or something.
Not really denying myself anything.
I got a little wasabi plant.
It took me like ten years
to develop that as sort of a crop.
I never would have had
the time or energy to put into that
if I had a nine to five job.
I never could have done
any of this if I had a nine to five job.
-So how do you make your money
if you don’t mind me asking?
-We sell seeds,
we sell tinctures, we sell plants.
Currently a lot of my income comes from
doing plant walks, educational stuff.
So I’ll leave that link
at the bottom of the video.
-Are you trying to sell more seeds or no?
Used to sell a lot of tinctures,
then the herb shop burned down.
-So we’ve now got
a little temporary shop down here.
We’re starting to make tinctures again
That was not
a spectacular source of income
but it was pretty steady.
Any time I’d walk by there’d be
just glass jars, all self-service.
-There’d be 20 or 30 bucks in there.
-Every time I walked by.
Typically in the past
I’d have six to eight apprentices
I always had more applications
than I had housing.
-Now for the first time I have
more housing than I have applicants.
We get a what are called woofers.
-You know that term?
-Woofers, I know that organization.
They come for a week but what we want is
people that are gonna come
for the whole summer.
-Eventually I need people that
move here for the rest of their lives.
-You want them to live on your property?
-Okay, well I’m sure
there’s someone out there.
Earn income by taking over
one or another aspect.
You could make a nice income
just from the medicinal herbs.
Somebody could make a nice income
from developing herbal products.
Someone could make
a nice income from the teaching,
website development,
and then the big income possibility
is this herb school.
Which I was starting
to set up at the end of the road.
I got a half acre up there
at the very end of the road.
Last bit of national forest.
The trail head for the steepest
hiking trail in Eastern North America
is right there on my property.
-I was gonna start an herb,
slash permaculture,
slash ecology school.
And that could provide enough income
for the whole gang of people here.
This is where I live, up there.
-When did you build that?
-About 35 years ago.
I’ve been here 50 years
but that house is about 35 years old.
Everything we’re walking by has uses.
Wild yam, and this lily
has use in Chinese medicine.
And the apios americana is
an edible endangered species.
Wild lettuce has been used as
an opium substitute that is not very good.
-Are you still learning?
-Oh, yeah.
-In this world?
-Oh, it’s endless.
-It’s endless, okay.
-Absolutely endless, yeah.
Arrowhead, a nice wild edible.
It’s a water plant but as I said,
I don’t have water on this land.
So I buy these kiddie pools
when they get cheap mid-summer
when the stores want to clear them out.
-What is this up here, Joe, this octagon?
-That is a yurt.
-It’s the newest building on the property,
over on the other side of the deck
was the oldest building on the property.
-Okay, way over there.
So this is where the people
that come to help live?
-Yeah, I’ve got
five or six little shelters,
and I have ambitions to build more.
Particularly out at the end of the road
where I want the school to be.
The idea is to have ten or a dozen
very simple shelters for people
who come for a week
or a couple weeks, you know?
-So is this more of you want to pass
your knowledge on to those interested
or you feel like the world
needs more of this movement
and you want it to really blossom out?
-Well it’s both.
People need to live differently.
The way we’re living on earth
is destroying the planet.
I think we all recognize that.
It’s just like in terms of changing
to a more successful way of life,
how far are you willing to go?
You know, when I talk about this stuff,
people’s first thought is all the stuff
they’re gonna have to give up.
Whereas where I want to focus
is all the stuff you’re gonna get.
All the positive stuff.
You know this concept of forest bathing?
Not heard of that one?
Very, very big in the Far East.
In Japan they got a word
for falling dead at your desk.
They can say that in one word.
People are just so overworked.
So people are being prescribed
to do this thing called forest bathing.
Where you just go out in the woods
and kind of meditate,
and open your senses,
your ears, your nose, your eyes.
-And just absorb this natural energy.
-Well you can put a helmet on somebody
and measure their brain waves.
And it’s just a difference
of night and day
between somebody
walking down a city street
and somebody walking down a mountain path.
And that’s all very… very measurable.
So the idea is to
transfer my needs from civilization,
which is my word for,
whatever you call it,
the state, or the economy,
or just like the way everything works,
with money being the blood of it,
back to fulfilling my needs
from a direct relationship
with the planet, with Gaia.
-Okay, so you built this
by yourself or with anyone?
-With friends.
There were half a dozen people,
sometimes more than that on work days.
The upstairs is clogged up with books.
I’ve gotten a lot of donations.
More than I have places to put them.
-Daoism, you love Laozi?
I had a whole book case of Daoism.
Now I’m down to just one shelf. [chuckles]
-Are these some of the supplements
you take every day?
-Yeah, tinctures I’ve made
for various purposes.
There are a lot more of them
down in the little herb shop.
That’s a Feng shui compass.
-How does a Feng shui compass work?
-It is incredibly complicated.
Each one of these little circles
will give you a piece of information.
There’s about 32.
A very interesting concept.
The Chinese are now
working on scientifically validating it.
-It’s been thought to be nonsense,
you know, but it’s very important to them,
and you don’t build
a new building in China without
consulting a Feng shui expert
about the location of it,
and which direction the door should open,
and like, “Is this a favorable spot?”.
Originally, it was
mostly for locating tombs.
It’s thought to be very, very important
where you bury your ancestors.
Like that’s going to affect
all of their descendants forever.
-You do all your cooking here?
Well we do a lot of cooking over there.
I eat with the group typically.
-They cook on wood over there.
Over here I’m unfortunately
stuck with propane, but…
-Have you spent much time in China?
-No, just a couple of mon…
I mean just about a month.
The Chinese government invited me over
for a conference on medicinal herbs.
So it was great.
I’ve been wanting to get to China
my whole life but I could never afford it.
So just books coming in, donated books.
-Boxes of them upstairs
that have never even been unpacked.
This entire thing
is about Chinese garden design.
Something interesting to me,
philosophy of Chinese gardening.
-Wow, so if someone
is interested in this field,
coming to you is… like going to Harvard.
You know, you’re not the
higher education institution I’m saying
but you’re the knowledge
that took a lifetime to accumulate.
-On some of these topics, yeah.
The reason Chinese gardens
are so interesting to me is
they’re built for self-improvement.
The idea is to create an area
with perfect energy
because what you do in a Chinese garden,
is you practice Tai Chi,
you do meditation, you write poetry,
you do landscape painting,
you play your zither.
-It’s all like for spiritual development.
So the purpose of the garden
is to have optimum chi,
energy, because we
derive our chi from the environment.
I like English landscaped gardens,
they’re very nice,
but the Chinese have this extra dimension
that is really a garden
that is good for you.
-Which is what I want my garden to be.
It stayed balance between the Daoists
who said we should
live according to nature
and the Confucians who said
we should live according to society.
So the Confucians are the ones that want
to kind of manipulate everything.
The Daoists…
But most of all China has made
many, many, many
important worldwide discoveries.
Printing, paper-making, gunpowder,
the compass, this is all from China.
But they didn’t use it
to colonize the rest of the world.
Those are all discoveries
because the Daoists
were really interested
in understanding the planet
in order to fit better.
Not in order to change it around,
they just wanted to fit in better.
That was their goal.
-So what’s… explain again
the equivalent of that in Western society.
You were saying in Greece.
-Yeah, there was
schools of thought that thought
we should live according to nature.
We now call them cynics, and skeptics,
and Epicurus was another one.
But all that’s left is fragments.
There’s not very much left
of all the things they wrote,
Heraclides and so on,
a lot of it’s very Daoist.
-What about the argument that
yeah, this way,
let’s just say away from technology,
modern world, more off the land,
more in tune with nature,
isn’t scalable for the average person?
i.e. you’re in an apartment tower
that holds a thousand people.
You’re really taking up very little space
to have that existence.
You’re all sharing one roof.
You’re not taking up land.
So in a way, because society,
we have a fixed amount of people
on the earth right now at this very time,
if everyone was spread out
then there’d be
no nature in a sense, right?
-I looked into it at one point
and it might have changed by now
’cause this was about 40 years ago.
But the amount of land per person,
it was doable.
-In America it’s doable?
-No, this was worldwide.
The amount of arable land per capita.
And it breaks down into, like there’s
arable land which you can cultivate,
and then there’s sort of agricultural land
that would be more like pasture and so on.
And then there’s wasteland.
And you can figure out, you can divide
the number of people on earth
into the number of acres of that stuff
and everybody gets
about an acre of arable land
and then another couple acres
of this kind of number two land.
-But I… I–
-My whole project is wasteland.
This land would not be classified
as good for anything.
-So that’s part of the experiment.
-Because it’s too hilly?
-Hilly and it was 80% rocks.
-This was a very fun project.
-This is when it originally was built?
-This is the original building.
Almost all the material came off the land.
Well-endowed with poplar trees,
and I got plenty of rocks,
and I got clay to make cob out of.
So it was just me and a couple of guys.
The biggest machine that’s been
on this land would be a chainsaw.
Everything is just hand labor.
-If you were young,
let’s say 30 years old right now,
is there any way you’d do it differently?
Arranging this lifestyle?
-I would have to rethink the whole thing
given what I know now about the
ecosystems and so on.
I mean I would still
need to make a clearing
because just for
diversity of habitats, you know?
-You can’t do everything in the woods
but part of the reason I’m interested
in medicinal herbs is ’cause
a lot of ’em grow in the woods,
and I didn’t want to cut down all my trees
So there’s this whole concept of
non-timber forest products.
Which is mostly used in the tropics
to try and get people
to not cut down all the forest.
-But it’s equally valid here.
I was very naive when I started.
I never studied botany in school,
or ecology, or any of that stuff.
-You learned all of this
as you went along?
What would your advice…
You’ve lived a lot of life,
you have a lot of wisdom,
what would your advice be
for a young person?
-Get ahold of a little piece of land.
-And just start?
-And go from there, yeah.
Yeah, we used to have
a really nice little cob dome.
Was built at a cost of $50.
It was like a kiva.
Got bent-in saplings, and then put clay.
It was beautiful.
A tree fell on it
and didn’t really bust it down
but it kinda hurt it enough
that water started to get in.
So about ten years later, there was
a lot of rot, we had to knock it down.
But it was wonderful.
So that’s like a house you could
whack together for 50 bucks, you know?
And you’re off and running.
You don’t need much more
than a pointed stick really.
You don’t need a big bankroll.
I started off here,
my bankroll was I think $500 total
that I got from a season of apple picking.
We bought a bunch of tools, and we
bought 50 pounds of brown rice, you know?
Packed it all into a little Volkswagen
and here we were.
The whole thing we need to do
is live according to Gaia.
That explains all the problems
we’re having on earth.
It’s because we no longer
have a valid niche.
Once upon a time,
when we were hunter-gatherers et cetera,
we had a valid niche,
we fitted into the whole system,
and then we went off on our own.
-But maybe the system was very communal.
Like your trip, I’m sorry,
what was the island you went to?
Very communal,
so that system works very well.
-Yeah, tribal system.
We’re in a very
individualistically driven culture.
Has its pros, has its cons.
One of the cons is
how do you create these systems
where there’s community doing
their part and working together?
-What holds it together?
-That’s the challenge.
-‘Cause there they have
survival maybe to hold them together
or some sort of spirits or Gods.
-Kinship, tribal society, yeah.
-So what do we have holding us together?
I mean religion’s always been
the staple for that sort of thing.
-Here’s a book I’m reading at the moment.
-Okay, is the answer in here?
-[both chuckling]
He’s got a positive definition
of the primitive.
I see a huge dichotomy
between what I call
civilization and the primitive.
The primitive being life in Gaia,
civilization being life in society
based on money.
Yeah, they have…
Primitive societies
are based on kinship basically.
Tribal societies,
that’s what holds them together.
-So you can always tap out here in a way?
We’re in a modern society, if you
need help you can go off this plot of land
and someone or something’s gonna help you.
Like even if you had an accident,
you’ll go to the ER room?
-Maybe there’s that knowing
there’s something outside.
For sure, that gives us
the freedom to do this kind of thing.
Uh, whether or not that’s gonna be
available in 50 years… [chuckles]
[Peter] Where do you think,
and obviously nobody has a clue,
as a society, where things are heading?
-Ooh, I think we’ve got
a very, very difficult future coming up.
Just merely with climate change, you know?
Large parts of the country are
going to become very difficult to inhabit.
If we think we’ve got
an immigration crisis now, just wait.
Wait until everything below
30 degree latitude becomes uninhabitable.
What are we gonna do then?
Politically, the one way people
are reacting is to become more right wing.
They want somebody in authority
to sort it all out for them.
It’s impossible for the government
to fix the problems that are coming
’cause the problems
are caused by the government.
-But an argument would be,
the right wing would say,
“The left wing is authoritarian
and they want everyone
to figure things out for them.”
-Yeah, I know.
-Each side says the same thing.
-It’s interesting.
Yeah, there’s this guy, Roger,
he’s still talking about Al Gore.
He thinks Al Gore
was trying to take over the country
with his myth about global warming.
-Is Al Gore still flying private though?
-[chuckling] I don’t even know
if he’s still alive, I think he is.
[Joe] So this is…
I’ve never done anything
with this land very much.
Introduced a few interesting plants
but it’s mostly
in its natural state.
-These are foreign,
they’re not native here, right?
-Oh no, they’re totally native.
-When you get down,
more Southern Appalachia,
there’s much more variety
with the plant life.
-Yes, very big for variety
’cause we’ve got the northern flora
meeting the southern flora.
-Right at this spot?
Pretty much right in here.
Mount Mitchell is
the furthest south of paper birch.
-And a number of other things.
Whereas it’s also the farthest north
for certain other things.
So yeah, we’ve got
an unusually high level of diversity here.
Very fortunate.
[Peter] If the grid went down,
let’s just say supply chains
grinded to a halt.
The grid goes down, how long do you think
you could sustain out here
right now with what you have?
-Uh, well me personally,
probably indefinitely.
If I had six or eight people here
it might start to get more challenging.
There’s just any amount
of stuff out there to eat
but that many people,
it would probably exhaust it pretty fast.
So we’re gonna have to get on the stick
about boosting our food production.
-This is one of the shelters that we have.
-This is so cool.
-It’s like a space ship.
That’s exactly my thinking.
-It’s hard to explain
but these walls come in.
-And then you’re looking down.
-It’s based on a Mongolian dwelling.
-Which was actually nomadic called a yurt.
-But this is a wooden version
designed by a man named Bill Copperthwait.
Who lived way up in Maine very remotely.
-He was off the grid more than me.
-Had to walk into his place
for about 20 minutes.
-Are there a lot of people doing this?
-I think so.
I have no idea how many, I think
they’re scattered all over the place.
-Yeah, you wouldn’t know,
the more remote they are–
-There was a very big
“back to the land” movement
back in the late ’60s, early ’70s.
Most of them gave it up and went back home
’cause their parents kept nagging them
to grow up and get a job,
but not all of them.
So you have these lingering pockets.
Celo, just down the road is the oldest
intentional community in America.
-Oldest intentional community in America?
-A mile and a half down the road.
That’s partly why I’m here.
Celo Community Incorporated
was started before World War II.
Had a lot of draft avoider types.
It was started by a man named
Arthur Morgan, first head of the TVA.
He was the first head of Antioch College
if you ever heard of that.
-Quite an experimental… outfit.
A lot of Quaker influence.
They have like 1,600 acres,
they’ve got like 50 families.
It’s an intentional community.
But not like Twin Oaks.
I mean they don’t all
work on a business together.
Everybody’s got their own…
-They’re driving off the community
to work or something like that maybe?
They can drive off
the community to go to work?
-Oh sure, there’s carpenters,
a lot of them are craftspeople,
there’s doctors.
-So they just want to be
with a group of like-minded people?
-I think there’s gonna be
more of that to be honest.
-That’s the next big challenge
is for us to relearn
how to live in community.
Because our emphasis on money
and so on, to fill all our needs
means we don’t really need each other.
[bees buzzing]
It’s so crappy that it would be
pointless to try and fix it up.
So we’re just using it until
we can get something rebuilt up above.
-There’s a dirt floor, I mean, you know?
It’s like a joke really,
but we do the best we can.
So these are all Chineses herbs.
So these, your purchasing?
They don’t come from here?
-Most of them grow in my garden.
-Oh, they come from your garden?
What’s in my garden
is not enough quantity to do this.
If we harvest stuff from my garden
we’ll typically tincture it.
-These are tinctures in process.
-It’s like a canning process
or what is it?
-It’s preserving with alcohol.
Extracting and preserving with alcohol.
-How long do you do this for?
-About a month, then we
squeeze ’em out, and put ’em in bottles.
-And you’re selling–
-Immune boosting stuff, anti-viral stuff.
Good for the brain,
good for sleep, good for anxiety,
good for broken bones.
-So you’re selling this here?
-So people have to come here to get it?
-It’s self service.
People come in,
get what they want, leave some money.
-Oh, great.
So if someone’s in North Carolina
they just gotta walk up here,
come into this building–
-…take whatever, leave a donation.
-$15 for a two ounce bottle…
-…is the asking price.
I’ve thought about just
not having a price and pay what you think
but a lot of people are happier
if you tell them how much to pay.
They don’t want to
have to think about that, you know?
[water trickling]
This is beautiful in here, Joe.
This is like a whole ‘nother zone.
An old cabin?
That’s what I built out of the trees
that were growing here.
Then I used some more of them
to build the building that burned down.
That was the first thing I ever built.
I had a Foxfire book
that told how a traditional
Appalachian cabin was built.
I personally am just
very drawn to mountains.
And mountains are very big
in Chinese thinking too.
Philosophy and medicine as well.
If the herb is good for something,
it’s twice as good
if it came out of the mountains.
‘Cause there’s more of this
chi energy in the mountains.
I don’t know if he’s home.
Jeff, are you here?
[door opens and creaks]
-Okay, so one of your workers lives here?
-This is so cool.
-There’s two houses like this
that also have a sleeping loft,
and then there’s two yurts
and then there’s various places
where we built a roof
but we haven’t gotten around
to walls and doors yet.
-The whole idea of
this future community is
it’s gonna be some gardeners,
and some builders, and some organizers,
some people that can do
computer website, outreach.
Just a variety of folks.
[birds chirping and bees buzzing]
This is Ryan, he’s been coming
for several years, he’s terrific help.
And Kate, this is Kate’s second year.
-She has a lot of gardening experience.
-She’s great, Rich is just
showing up today for the first time.
-Helping split wood.
-You just came in? Nice.
-This was half of my life work right here.
The other half being the garden.
So the half that was right here
was my lifetime library,
and it was an exceedingly good library.
The whole back wall
was books, it was full of books,
and then the back end was my apothecary.
It was a whole wall of tinctures.
Both Chinese and native plants,
and another partial wall
of dried Chinese herbs.
Maybe a hundred different species.
There was a cabinet
which had my seed bank.
Some of them quite rare.
The fire even was so intense
it affected the greenhouse over here.
That also burned up.
-How did it start?
-It started by accident
by a foolish person
who made a fire
in this very fire pit on the deck.
Which has been done thousands of times
but he neglected to put it out
when he went to bed.
-Oh, I’m sorry.
-That’s all it took.
-At 5:00 in the morning it was
fully in flames when they woke me up.
I ran downstairs, grabbed
a fire extinguisher, looked outside,
and dropped the fire ext– [laughs]
Forget it,
the whole building was in flames.
-You know, 50 feet high.
-This is where you cook your food?
-That’s a pizza oven,
periodically fired-up for baking.
This is meant to
turn into a work space… at some point.
You can see there’s windows everywhere,
there’s just stuff everywhere.
Kind of maddening.
-It’s a lot to manage?
-Glance in the old yurt if you want.
-Oh, yeah, another yurt?
-Nobody in there at the moment.
-Yeah, so if you don’t keep up on this,
this is basically jungle.
I mean it’s in two months
it’s taking over everything.
-There are no ghost towns in Appalachia.
You go out West, you know, there’s
buildings that are a hundred years old.
Not around here.
-They just get grown over?
-The mushrooms will eat it.
This is the oldest building here,
it’s almost 50 years old.
It’s really on its last legs.
-There’s a lot of rot.
-Been neglected at different times.
So just as an effort
to get a few more years out of it
we covered the whole roof with plastic.
It can’t really be repaired.
-Oh, this one looks nice.
-It’s one of my favorite spaces of all.
There’s something really nice about
having a dwelling space without corners.
-When everything you own is just like
within your peripheral vision.
That’s what makes it easier
to keep warm for example.
-And this stays plenty warm
in the winter with that one stove?
-It… doesn’t hold heat.
-But it’s very easy to heat up.
-So you can come in there
when it’s 20 degrees
and you can have it
comfortable in 20 minutes.
It’s on it’s way out, you know?
It used to have an openable skylight
which was very nice for ventilation.
So this is kind of a last ditch effort
to get a few more years out of it.
I’m gonna feel very sad when it
finally has to get knocked down but
it’s inevitable.
[water trickling]
[Joe] More and more,
the people that are moving in are
more middle class, it seems like.
They just want to get out of the city,
the don’t necessarily have the kind of
idealistic goals that I have and had.
“I want to have some chickens
and a vegetable garden.”
It’s great.
-The pandemic really did that, huh?
-I gather… pretty sure
that’s where it’s coming from.
Possibly a certain amount of…
I’m told that the phrase is doomsaying.
I never heard that phrase
until last weekend.
But you know, a certain amount
of worry about the future.
So it’s wanting a better life
but it’s also being worried
that the life you have back in the city
or whatever is not gonna work forever.
-Anything else you want to say, Joe?
Anything we missed?
-I’m sure there’s probably a lot,
but no, I think we did a good job.
Just want to refer people to my website
for lots and lots more information.
And you’re looking for
apprentices to come out here?
-To learn under you.
To help out with all of this
beautiful nature and to learn.
-Hopefully people with some experience.
-I usually say you should have
a year’s of gardening experience…
-…to think about becoming an apprentice.
-Now we do take on woofers
very short term
for a week or two at a time.
-When we have the space.
I don’t know,
maybe as a result of this video
we’re all of a sudden
gonna be overwhelmed.
-But long term is more ideal, right?
-Like for the full summer season.
-Oh yeah, mm-hmm.
-Come back for…
The longer people stay,
the more helpful they can be.
-So what they’re getting for that
is they’re get to live for free here
but the big takeaway is
you’re gonna learn how to
live in an environment like this.
Pretty much completely removed,
from someone who’s done it for 50 years.
-All right.
-Educational opportunity.
Room, board, and educational opportunity
is what we have to offer.
-Thank you, appreciate it.
-Thank you.
-I respect how you’re living.
-It’s great.
-It’s very cool to see.
-All right, thanks for coming along, guys.
Until the next one.
♪ somber country ♪
[Joe] These are good echinaceas,
these are the better echinaceas.
[Man] When would you even do that, fall?
Fall, or early spring?
Wouldn’t do that now.
[Joe] No, probably not.

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